In-home fires are a devastating tragedy all year round. But with all of the candles, aging strings of lights, and dry Christmas trees in homes at the holidays, the risk of a fire increases substantially.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an average of one of every 32 reported home Christmas tree fires results in a death compared to an average of one death per 143 total reported home fires. Take these steps to make sure your home is protected from a holiday-time fire.
Follow the National Fire Protection Association's tips to prevent fires:
- Consider using battery-operated flameless candles.
- Only use candles with a sturdy base that will not tip over.
- Never leave a burning candle unattended.
- Keep candles a safe distance from flammable materials—at least 12 inches.
- Inspect your holiday lights for frayed or pinched wires.
- Water your Christmas tree every day.
- Dispose of your Christmas tree after it dries out.
Test your equipment
Check the batteries on all smoke detectors, and the expiration dates on any fire extinguishers you own. It's far too easy to let these routine checks slip by, so making a point to do it every holiday season helps you to keep your equipment up to date. If you don't own any fire extinguishers, consider adding one to each floor of your home.
Complete your Home Insurance Inventory
It’s not exactly festive to prepare for the worst, but it’s wise before the holidays to ensure you’re up-to-date, both on what your home insurance covers in the event of a fire and the collection of items in your home that might form part of a claim.
Most homeowners have an HO-3 insurance policy, which covers a broad range of perils, including fire. However, the maximum amount you're covered for, and how you'll be reimbursed, can vary depending on your personal policy. Review your policy's declaration page to determine whether you'll receive a flat amount to replace personal items lost in a fire, or if you will only be reimbursed for individual items you declare in a claim.
Then, run an inventory of everything in your home—including items such as clothing, kitchenware, stereos, art, and jewelry—to determine if your insurance policy's current limits are high enough to replace all of your personal property. A written list will probably suffice, but insurance experts also recommend making a walk-through of the home, recording images of key items you own, describing their significance, provenance and value as you go. When it comes to determining value, regularly filing receipts from significant purchases can make this process easier, and it can help you verify the value of your property to an insurance adjuster if you do have to file a claim.
Once you've totaled your inventory, compare it with your policy's limits. If you're uncomfortable with the amount loss you're protected against, or if you think you're paying for more coverage than you need, consider adjusting your homeowners insurance policy. Also, if you’re renter who doesn’t have insurance on the contents of your home, because you have no mortgage lender who requires it, now is the time to consider adding such coverage. It's cheap, usually less than $12 a month, and it can provide invaluable peace of mind.
Despite the minor risk involved, the sights and lights of the holiday season are as much a part of your home as its permanent fixtures. As you string lights or decorate a tree this season, it’s reassuring to know your home is safe.